Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jack London would have loved it-

We're working through a real blizzard here. I'm getting a few pics, but it's tricky; it's very dang cold, and taking a camera out, from the warm house, into the cold (+2°F, currently, with a 30 mph wind, no kidding) - can mean condensation inside the camera, and its lenses, that can take forever to clean up. So, you have to keep the camera inside your coat. Then take gloves off, take the pic quick, get it back inside before it gets to cold, and don't sweat inside the coat in the meantime...

Which is just too hard. So far I've been out twice today; once to feed and water poultry, once to get water from the windmill; both times I've wound up over-dressed and sweating like crazy before I got back into the house.

Not a problem if you've got a house, and a fire, to dry off in- but sweating like that in weather this cold is death, if you can't dry off. Literally. Hypothermia real quick.

Standing, all comfy, in the -40°F wind chill, while I waited for my water jugs to fill, it was making me think about this, and about "margins" for survival. And about what you have to know, to actually survive, outside of "civilization".

You have to know plenty. And extreme weather, like this blizzard, will quickly eliminate non-survivors.

A couple weeks ago during Thanksgiving at Middle Child's, I found myself reading an "Outdoor!" type magazine; lots of extreme rockclimbers, waterfall kayakers, that kind of thing. One of them had tried "growing his own food" the year previously, and come to the adamant opinion, after one season, that it was essentially impossible. Can't be done.

What was obvious to me, was that he'd dived into gardening quite certain that his well established coolness would certainly include knowing how to grow simpleminded stuff, like, tomatoes, for crying out loud. But it didn't. His garden was a total flop.

And his conclusion was not "hm, I guess I'm not as smart as I thought"; but - "nobody can possibly grow food in a garden, since I can't."

Jack London knew this guy very well; and wrote a perfect portrait of him in To Build A Fire.

If you've never read it; now is the time. If you have; re-reading is well worth it.

Be careful who you follow. Self confidence sells well. But may not save your neck.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


For the winter deprived; Smidgen and snow.

Yes, sledding means you gotta pull your sled up the hill.
That Aermotor in the background is indeed our house water source.

We do have other kinds of sleds, including a classic Flexible Flyer; but this was the choice today. "The snow is pretty fluffy still, the flatbottom sleds will be faster..." "Hu'uh. This one!" Boy, nobody listens.



ok, so the second photo is "clickable", and gets to the full size pic, where you can actually see her face. The first photo- won't. I uploaded them at the same time; exact same procedures. Anybody able to clue me in on why one works and the other doesn't?

etbnc- how do you see those anchor tags? I use Safari- and at this point, can't see any differences.

I DID, though; take your hint; and look at the hypertext language in Edit mode; and was able to copy the stuff from the working one, subbing the numbers from the first; and - it works! Many thanks! Right here:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ah, winter.

Sorry to be so quiet- this is a crazy busy time of year for us; one of our crops is chestnuts, and guess when you sell them?

The sales window for traditional markets is small, and it can't be done "later"; only "now". Just for extra fun, of course, two of our vehicles, the farm truck and the family car, have decided that now is the time for them to die; or almost die. So lots of extra monkey business there.

And, last night winter finally, really, closed down on us; 8 inches of snow, overnight. On icy hard-frozen ground. The John Deere 4WD was slipping sideways quite a bit as I plowed out.

Supposed to be a time of rest for farmers. Ho ho ho.

Murphy, and his laws, keeps hanging around, too, lest we become complacent. One of the things you have to do to market your chestnuts is, wash them. That takes water. We're off the grid, so, having reliable supplies is something that takes a bit of forethought.

We just thought fore to the extent of installing a new 2,500 gallon cistern. Polystyrene, alas, but concrete pre-fab was way more expensive, and any custom concrete possibilities even more so. If I had my druthers, I'da dug the hole and laid up fieldstone for a cistern myself; but I don't have the luxury of doing work that slowly, at the moment.

The well pump is a plain Shurflo 9300, a pretty reliable, though slow machine with a good track record. We actually own 3, via the weirdnesses of off-grid living, 2 currently dead but rebuildable as backups.

And, we just purchased a new solar panel, to directly drive the pump; no batteries to be connected; sun shines, pump pumps, into the huge cistern. Theoretically.

You DO need a "pump controller", a little solid state thingy, to prevent the odd chance that your panels may suddenly put out more electricity than your pump can handle, which will burn out your pump. That's a real concern for us, since exactly that can happen on very cold sunny days. Unbeknownst to many, solar panels will put out 1% more current for every 3° C colder it gets. Since panels are "rated" at hot normal temperatures like you'd expect them to be in Florida in full sun in the summer- on a cold day in February in Minnesota; when the air temperature is 25° below 0 F, and the wind is blowing at 30 mph, so the panel is really that cold; and the sun is shining full blast- on a snow field that's bouncing even more light onto the panel- you can suddenly find yourself with WAY more power coming out of the panel than it's rated at.

I found that out by boiling my batteries, the first year I had solar panels. Sure, the information was available - deeeeeeeply buried where nobody ever sees it. Gosh, why is there acid bubbling out of the top of my batteries?

And our spiffy Shurflo pump controller; just purchased with the new panel- has lots of cool facts about it available on the web; except all the technical specifications (or at least, I couldn't find them).

So reading them, now that I've got it in my hands... yeah, yeah, x volts in, y amps in, etc, etc... oh, look "Operating Temperatures: +14°F to + 135°F."

Excuse me?

Unwritten subtext: "We designed your spiffy gizmo to work in Florida; don't try using it anywhere you have actual winters."

They left that part out of the sales brochures.


Ok, my point.

There's a LOT of our world that now works this way; machines, devices, and processes- are designed to work beautifully, within specific parameters.

But, they don't tell you up front what those parameters are. And finding a person, a live one, who truly knows what they are, and how much they can, or can't, be stretched- is often incredibly difficult.

My water system is currently going "pocketa pocketa queep".

And my major response is; I get to wait until Monday, when at 9 AM Pacific time, somebody may, possibly, get my phone message. And may, possibly, pass it on to someone who knows something.


So, I'm going sledding, with Smidgen. Spice is off to check the electric fence for the horses; on snowshoes.

Baked squash tonight; the woodstove is cranking out the heat.

Complex systems may have lots of collapsible pathways; but fire is hot, and squash is good food.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

pocketa pocketa queep

That's a well known literary allusion, in case you didn't know.

Ah, well, it was well known in that world now fading fast behind us; the one where children learned to read early, and learned to love exploring books.

It's from James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", a celebrated very short story about the large fantasy life of a nebbish. I became acquainted with it by reading my big brother's English textbook a few years ahead of time.

"A huge, complicated machine, connected to the operating table, with many tubes and wires, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. "The new anesthetizer is giving away!" shouted an intern. "There is no one in the East who knows how to fix it!" "Quiet, man!" said Mitty, in a low, cool voice. He sprang to the machine, which was now going pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep . He began fingering delicately a row of glistening dials. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped."

Thurber found the "pocketa" sound highly useful, and applied it in quite a few situations.

"It's forty kilometers through hell, sir," said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. "After all," he said softly, "what isn't?" The pounding of the cannon increased; there was the rat-tat-tatting of machine guns, and from somewhere came the menacing pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the new flame-throwers. Walter Mitty walked to the door of the dugout humming "Aupres de Ma Blonde." He turned and waved to the sergeant. "Cheerio!" he said. . . . "

It struck me yesterday, observing our elections here in the US, that noise seems to be the most certain aspect of our politics and discussions these days, and the most certain outcome.

And that our entire civilization has shifted, from going "pocketa-pocketa-pocketa", to going "pocketa-pocketa-queep".

My prediction, alas, is that pocketa-pocketa-queep is going to be the chief sound, and the sum total of our achievements, for some years ahead.

And, if you have a fountain pen, I don't think anyone has any idea what to do with it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunrise, sunset...

Happy Halloween, All Saints Day, Samhain, whichever.

Autumn has long been a favorite time of year, for me; when I was a youngster I would say the favorite; but these days I'm less exclusive. Why would I want, when listening to the first frogs chorusing in just-spring, to wish for something different?

Here in the cold-temperate part of the world, Autumn can be seen as a fading time; the "end" of summer, the "descent" into the dark, cold, death of winter.

Oh, piffle; is my response. The naked limbs of the trees have their own distinctive beauty, invisible most of the year; and the diamond-sharp stars of deep winter nights are worth the frozen nose that goes with them.

Still. While it's lovely to watch the bright leaves fall, it's such an ephemeral thing; I have to admit to a little pang of sadness when they are all gone. I do watch the whole show carefully, each year, even in the hurry of harvest.

When I was a freshman in college, I had a great deal more time than I do now. Probably being away from home made me a bit more sentimental and nostalgic than usual, but I really regretted losing the oranges, reds, yellows.

So I made an effort to find a way to keep them; just a bit longer.

I found a way. I've kept it rather a secret ever since; but the time has come to share it.

I knew that "pressing" leaves; gathering them and putting them in between layers of paper; simply doesn't work for the colors. You can wind up with a nicely preserved leaf, that will show you the shape and all, but the color will be dramatically, or totally, faded if you follow normal procedures. And the pressing process can take a month or so, before the leaf is thoroughly dried and stable. The only method I knew of to save the colors was very messy; involving infusing the leaves with glycerin. Gooey, and not cheap either.

Somehow, I hit on the idea of - ironing - the leaves. I was already enough of a biologist that the idea immediately had some appeal; the rapid heating of the water in the leaf to the boiling point should "denature" the enzymes responsible for digesting the pigments; maybe this could work...

It does work. Extremely well, in fact. The one additional "secret" to this process is that freshly ironed leaves still need to be pressed in paper, or they will curl up. But having been thoroughly ironed, much of the cell structure has now been just a little ruptured, by steam; and the leaf will dry to stability in just a week or so. If you try to iron them hot enough, and long enough, to just dry them directly, there's a very good chance you will cause the colors to fade a great deal; too much, and you can easily scorch a dry leaf.

Use a "hot" iron; lay it on the leaf and let the heat penetrate; move the iron a bit to flatten any irregularities; turn the leaf and iron the other side (seems silly, but seems to matter); then turn and iron again; that's all. A heavily padded ironing board may not work well; I often iron on an old National Geographic, covered with a couple paper towels to absorb moisture.

This is now a rite of passage, for me; as Autumn progresses, I'll make an expedition or two with a loved one to just walk, and discover, and gather some of the brightest and most beautiful leaves. Then we'll iron them together, quickly taking the hot and still damp leaves and carefully getting them, exactly flat, into the old atlas or dictionary. Some of the colors change a little when ironed; dark reds may become even darker; light yellows may get paler still. Or not; this unknown part of the rite adds a little more whimsey to it.

Then, a week or two later, perhaps on a rainy late fall day, the next part of the rite. We meticulously wash a couple windows; the east, and the south, in our case. And using double sided tape, together we put up the leaves, perhaps making swoops and swirls, to look like a swoosh of falling leaves. Yes, they're a little fragile. You have to be careful with them. That's a good thing. If you're not sure your leaves are dry enough, try a few. If they start to curl away from the glass in an hour or two, they need to stay in your book press for a few more days.

Often after the late fall rains, the woods will be bare- and gray. It can seem just a bit dismal, if you let it. But as I drink my morning coffee, whatever morning light there is comes through these saved bits of the brightest days. And when the sun hits them- it's nature's own version of stained glass.

We'll usually leave ours up until New Years, at least; then the snow gradually asserts its own authority, and eventually makes the bits of Fall seem out of date. We take them down; burn them in the woodstove, re-wash the windows, and move on; knowing we'll do it again next year.

It slows the speeding days, just a little.


Give it a try, if you can; even here where "all the leaves" are down, you can still find fresh bright leaves in odd places. You do need freshly fallen, or picked off the tree; leaves that have been off the tree for just a day are already faded, and brittle. Often young tree seedlings in the woods keep their leaves long after the grownup trees have shed theirs. Scrounge around; with a loved one (or two), if you can.

So far as I know, I "invented" this process. I see looking on the web that some people iron leaves- but as far as I can tell, they do it only between pieces of wax paper, counting on the wax to "fix" the leaf. I'd never heard of that before; and I can assure you, you don't need the wax. Just ironed and book pressed, the colors will stay completely fresh for 4-6 months; they will, of course, gradually fade after that.

Let me know how it works for you.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Render unto Timex...

We've been having fun here with our "land hurricane"; and the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded, either in the USA, or at least the Midwest, depending on your source. We didn't get the absolute worst of it, but it has been work to get through it; tarps ripped off, ripped up, a tree or two down on a road or two, smoke in the house from more atmospheric turbulence than our chimney can handle.

Coulda been worse. Actually, I've seen worse winds here, just not so heavy so long. We've been averaging 30 mph, with bursts up to 55 for three days; but any good summer thunderstorm can have short duration winds up over 70, and I've seen 90 mph. But only for 10 minutes or so.

In the middle of it all, we got to drive to our doctor town for me to have an "upper endoscopy"; the doctors going fishing for anything down my upper gastro-esophageal system that's out of whack and could explain some of my whining. (Can't remember any of it, which means they did a good job; and the bottom line was "nothing obvious" but they did take a couple biopsy chunks to look at closer.) The car blew around on the road a bit, but again; coulda been worse.

When I came out of the anesthesia (this is how we do it in Minnesota),

I was not, surprisingly, gasping for air. Besides being droll and musical, our Midvestern anesthesiologists are very competent. So I woke up surprised.

It was all over and I didn't even remember falling asleep. (thanks for the video to my big brother, who has more time to cruise youtube...)

The next thing on the agenda was a little woozy shopping (with Spice along as unmedicated driver) for the necessities of life.

For me, the necessities include a working watch. I know; half of youse guys out there cheerfully do without one (and even brag about that, from time to time), but as I noted today over on Sharon's post about the relativity of time, I now need to know where I am in the day; how much is left to work with, etc. And no, you can't tell time from the sun in Minnesota in late fall/early winter; more than half the days are sunless.

And my sturdy, reliable, Timex Ironman Triathalon® (can't tell you how manly it makes me feel to wear one!) watch had recently done what they all have done; the watchband broke; long before the watch itself was near the end of its life.

And, guess what? Just as always before (like 5 times, by now) - since I'd bought my Timex IT; the styling had changed, just a teensy, so that- nope, they don't actually have a replacement band available for that particular model... and the watch-girl (used to be the goose-girl, 300 years ago) doesn't really even know how to get this thing disattached...

The (mildly, given the state of the world) aggravating thing is that the watch itself is nicely designed, and has a long, reliable life. And the band always dies long before the watch.

Accident? Ha. We know better. It is, of course, a ploy to sell more watches, keep the profits rolling. I can hear the conversation in the Timex marketing meetings: "Ok, look, the damn engineering department has screwed us again; these bloody things run without a problem for 4-5 years! How the hell can we justify our bonuses if we're only selling one per customer in 5 years?? Here's how we can fix this disaster...)

It's a broad huge problem with our world, of course; the waste of resources, where there is no actual need for it, just greed for it.

But. I've come to be resigned to this kind of little irritation; it's an intractable problem, and not quite as urgent as some others (like all-time record breaking weather); and not a fight I really have the time to get into, anyway. Hélas.

So. I'm calling it The Timex Tax. Sure as death and. Inescapable. You pays your money, and you takes your chances.

But at least, now, no matter where I am on the farm, chopping water or hauling wood, I'll be sure to know how much longer I have to struggle onward, today. My Timex Tax is paid for another 2-3 years.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Just let The Market work!"

I know, I owe you guys a guinea update. :-) Working on it. Meanwhile, I just made this comment over on Richard Black's BBC environment blog, and kind of liked the way it turned out - so, I'll repeat it here. This is part and parcel of the Sociopathic Business syndrome- the insistence that The Market will solve all problems - if only those nasty regulators will allow it to-


A couple of years ago, I got a nice lesson in reality. My very ugly truck was stolen.

I'd bought the truck specifically as a farm-only vehicle; ugly but functional. Very ugly, rusty; but mechanically reliable, like a tractor. "Nobody in their right mind would steal it", was our firm belief, so it was left commonly in the field, in sight of the public road, where we were working. Everyone agreed- "nobody would ever steal that old piece of junk". We de-registered it; no license, since it never went off the farm.

Guess what? Some people- who were NOT in their right mind, but hopped on meth - stole it, and wrecked it. Actually causing us substantial loss; it was a tool we needed.

Now- I'm not considered a dumb person- but how did I forget that the world is teeming with people "not in their right mind"?

Humans are outstanding at simultaneously believing two different things- which they know are mutually exclusive; "incompossible", as they used to say. First world farmers, for example know that if they don't produce as much food as possible, "the world will starve"; and simultaneously know that overproduction of food is responsible for their low prices and constant dance with bankruptcy. So they support burning the food they grow, and get very huffy about it if you suggest that burning food is, um, questionable.

SR wrote:
"I think what a lot of people tend to forget is that if it weren't for market mechanisms and the *generally* efficient allocation of scarce resources thereof, we would still be floundering in something resembling a Dicken's novel."

The concept that "markets efficiently allocate resources" is another one of these beguiling fantasies. I'm delighted to see the "generally" added- perhaps a bit of reality is slipping in.

The illusion stems from an underlying and rarely stated part of the belief; which is that markets will, and do- operate "honestly".

All of history- and blatantly all of very recent history- agrees that markets NEVER operate honestly. Never. It just doesn't happen. Never has. The Code of Hammurabi contains death penalties for people who cheat in business.

Sure, there are plenty of plain honest business people who run beautifully honest operations (I'm one, in fact). And in case you hadn't noticed, they're the ones who wind up in the newspapers- for going bankrupt, after years of hard honest work. While the dishonest ones- wind up in the papers for mind-blowing bonuses; wrist-slap legal fines for their illegal operations; and the fact they resent being called dishonest.

It has always been that way. Yes, indeed, markets allocate resources fairly; and if my Aunt had wheels, she'd be a Ferrari.

Or we could always say, anyone in their right mind, will obviously conduct business honestly and fairly.

That'll work.


What they teach, in the Business School Of Sociopathy- is that if you simply keep repeating the mantra of "The Market Will Solve All Problems" - a huge number of voters will believe it, forever. Which will then ensure that Regulations are kept to a minimum; and "business opportunities" are not abridged.

Which means- opportunities for theft, fraud, and piracy- will alway be available; thank goodness.


That post on the BBC generated some following discussion; maybe worth looking at...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Denialoons...

Super quickie. Just wanted to let the world know I am unleashing a new neologism (sick).

Just hit me as I was composing scathing reposts to the paid deniers over on Richard Black's BBC environment blog.

Unfortunately, the blog is infested with obvious paid deniers/disruptors (obvious if you're trained in spotting them), and it's sad because there are people there trying to discuss and learn. If not blocked, they will eventually succeed in castrating the blog, just as happened to Andy Revkin's "Dot Earth" on the NYT.

Anyway. I'd recently described an organization I know as "an addled loon egg", and may have been heard to comment how glad I am to know that loons are not endangered, in some venues...

And the words just came together. Denial. Loon.

Oh, the fit is perfect, and "denialoon" sounds to me like what is known in the marketing biz as a "sticky" word. It's memorable; and can get around.

So; a little boxing, from me. Denialoons is what they are; and will always be. Much stickier than "flat-earther".

Pass it around! :-)

ps - well, pooh. A quick google, done after writing the above, shows that one other person has put this together, before me. But, they made no effort to launch it. I wanna launch it; good epithets can have legs, or wings, in this case...

Friday, October 8, 2010

More to be pitied, than scorned.

For you infants, that's an old put down for a young lady who got herself knocked up without benefit of matrimony.

But it's also a shoe that fits many MBAs and businessmen. They're in a sociopathic culture; and indeed many have been sucked in and indoctrinated in it, without being, at their cores, actual sociopaths.

There are real, genetic, natural sociopaths on Wall Street, to be sure. But if you'll check the definitions there, sociopaths love to manipulate people; it gives them big warm fuzzies down in their iceberg hearts. They love to be admired. Worshiped.

Emulated. So indeed, one good born sociopath thriving as a successful hedge fund CEO (for example) will spawn dozens more; the weak, easily led, who follow in the shining footsteps, and, of course, often will strive to "out Herod Herod", as they seek their idol's praise.

Nasty little positive feedback loops, all over, in this mess.

But. Before the entire business community descends on me in fury, explaining they are not sociopaths, at all, but "good people"; who kiss their children good night, and give money to the United Way once a year -

Sure. Not all businessmen and women are sociopaths - by nature.

But. Take a good look at what you do, every day. And. How many times a week do you find yourself justifying some hurtful, harmful activity with "Look, this is business."

Yes it is. Blind pure self-interest, all others be damned.

So, if, dear businessman, you're feeling wounded that the entire world (it's not just me, you know) is starting to actually speak up and say we all loathe you- keep in mind that like the pregnant 15 year-old, many of us out here can see your problem, and we do feel compassion.

It's a sad place to be, no doubt.

What we need, obviously, is a good Twelve Step Program; to become a "Recovering Business-Sociopath."

And don't I wish I were joking.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Harvard Business School Has No Clothes.

I have a little epiphany for you. One that hit me as I was driving across multiple states recently, observing our world.

It's summed up in a blindingly oblivious "Op-Ed" piece, in today's New York Times. From the author's blurb:

"William D. Cohan, a former investigative reporter in Raleigh, N.C., writes on alternate Fridays about Wall Street and Main Street. He worked on Wall Street as a senior mergers and acquisitions banker for 15 years. He also worked for two years at GE Capital. He is the author of 'House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street' "

In his piece entitled "The Elizabeth Warren Fallacy", Mr Cohan asks (and he's serious) "Why create an expensive bureaucracy to “protect” consumers from their own stupid decisions?"

The mind boggles. Mine does, anyway, and mine is not all that easily boggled. And this is from an author who writes elsewhere about wretched behavior on Wall Street.

Literally going back to the Code of Hammurabi, the very existence of all law is justified by the fact that, yes, innocent persons need to be protected from predatory humans.

But here, a scion of the Business World, slickly suggests that sheep exist to be sheared, and that this is how the world works. This is what they teach MBAs, these days. Any means to a profit - not specifically forbidden by law or (silly) regulations- is entirely fair. Reap all you can, before the regulators catch on.

Which behavior has put our culture where it is- virtually all the "real" capital in the "real" economy has been skimmed off, via slick marketing of easy credit - e.g.;

Borrow $10,000 on your credit card today! Just use this EasyCheck {Same as cash!} - And for this Special Limited Time Offer, this loan will be at only 1.99% until paid off!"

(Until you sneeze, then it goes into the default rate of 30%...)

With the real capital sucked out of the Real Economy into the bizarre fantasy world of The Financial Sector (which owes itself trillions of dollars more than actually exist anywhere) - we're broke. And breaking further. All of us.

In my opinion, the best, most solid economic statistic available is the rate at which CEOs and top corporate executives buy and sell their own stock in their own companies. Through a grotesque oversight, this is public information. At the moment, those who know the most about their own futures are selling their own stocks at a rate of 1,400 to 1.

No, that's not good.

The epiphany?

Gradually, over the years, our societally accepted definition of "business" has changed.

It used to be; and we still teach our children, that "business" happens when: you have a need; I fill it; you pay me for my work; and we both benefit.

Now what we teach our MBAs is, if there is no need; create one; and if you can trick your opponent out of an extra penny, good for you. Mutual benefit, in fact, is literally no longer in the definition.

What you have there- is precisely - the definition of sociopathy.

We teach Sociopathy as "Business". We really, really, really do.


There are multiple sites on the web that deal with definitions of sociopath, and lists of character traits. They don't all agree, but take a look; and compare the traits to those flaunted by "business" professionals.
(If you're a movie fan, take a look at Gordon Gekko this way.)

For the last many decades, the business world has very effectively insinuated huge respect for themselves into every aspect of our culture. All good things flow from business; without it, we will all perish. There you have a truth beyond examination. To question it, even, is punishable. The metaphors quickly reach to religious dogma; heresy; and excommunication.


Maybe you already knew this. I've always known there were slimy characters here and there; but it was a new idea, hitting me with force, that we actually accept, and teach, a group of behaviors and attitudes we also recognize as incredibly destructive and dangerous. Genuinely pathological. Sick.

Try saying "Harvard School Of Sociopathy" a few times; see how it fits.

Today; it's to the point where a respected writer can suggest, in a respected forum, that stupid people deserve to be tricked, and "we" should waste no money to save them. (Never mind that the public will then, provably, pay for their prisons, hospitals and funerals, and sociopathic children.)

What happened to the idea that business should not involve traps and tricks, in the first place?


Manifestly, The American Way Of Business now thrives - survives- on tricks and traps. The entire model is sociopathic. And is run by trained sociopaths.

Spread the word. So far, sociopath is still a label most would like to avoid. It's a very bad thing to call someone. A very hard word. Maybe it needs to be spray-painted all over Wall Street.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I have issues.

Smidgen, who is in kindergarten now,  came home a day ago and announced that "Troy still has talking issues."

Which cracked me up.  I love the way our language changes.  "To have issues" is not that old a phrase; goes back only to the 80's, I think, and was unknown before then.  Now it's become this powerful and universal explanatory.  I love imagining exactly how it bounces around in the kindergarten room.

I have issues, at the moment.  We've had this momentary karma crash, apparently.

While my health is currently not an issue, everything else is.  Our poultry, both guineas and chickens, are disappearing, at a really alarming rate.  Something is eating them (the piles of feathers attest) but we can't figure what.  Have to figure it out.

Our tree crops are dropping like crazy; and we can't pick them up fast enough.  And- we got clobbered by the flooding rains a couple days ago; with more on the way.  We only got 4 inches out of it, not the 10 some neighbors did.  But when you're picking stuff up off the ground, and the ground is mud- it's not good.

The storm was what our grandparents would all have called "the equinoctial storm".  Smack on the equinox, this time.  They all new/believed that you can expect a major rainstorm event every year, close to the equinox.  Lots of mysticism about why; but for our location, my 30+ years of watching tends to affirm their opinion.  The balance of sunlight has shifted from light to dark; the weather shifts too.

Besides pounding crops into mud, we got hit by a karmic lightning bolt.  Well, the surge, anyway.

For decades, it's been my rigid practice to unplug everything during lightning storms.  After frying 8 (no exaggeration) answering machines, it seemed the best practice.  But.  This time, the DSL connection was left on; and my computer was connected.

We heard a very loud POP from the direction of the DSL, and every circuit breaker in the house tripped. The thunder roll came a couple seconds later; this wasn't a hit on the house.

Took a while to figure out what and where.  After resetting all the breakers; the DSL modem; and my computer, were stone dead.  The surge evidently got into the DSL line, evaded all their protections, then via ethernet wire into my computer, then into the power lines, and "poof".  Lighting does anything it wants to, is the actual physical law.

I was really pretty dismayed to discover how dependent I've become on the computer and the web.  It's a chunk of my life; and when it's not available, things get out of kilter.  How the hell am I supposed to plan what to do when I can't look at the radar loop?  Or when that urgent email conversation is disrupted?

I used to, of course.  Changing back is strangely difficult, though.

Meanwhile.  More rain on way.  Gotta get crops in.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I paid too much.

  I'm kinda afraid to say "I'm back!" - but; I may be back.  We'll see.  I am back from my trip, and it was a tremendously productive and useful one, the kind that leaves your head spinning with new possibilities, and solutions to old problems, and lots of energy...

  After which, you arrive home to reality, and while it's wonderful; that damned pot hole in the driveway still needs to be fixed...

  And so it goes.  As St. Vonnegut put it repeatedly.  Anyway; an actual post:

  Two days ago, I paid too much for an antique.  On purpose.

  The "antique" is a hand-cranked feed grinder; for turning whole corn etc. into chicken feed.  It's small scale agriculture; but from the day when people bought such things expecting them to work without breaking, for a lifetime; to serve their own needs fully, and well.

  I've needed one for a year, and have been suffering mentally from the fact that before I had any poultry I saw one, languishing in an antique mall, asking to be taken home for a very measly $35; a great 40 lb chunk of cast iron from another era.  Nobody was buying, obviously; it's a heavy working machine, and doesn't transform well into a tchotchke.  I'd admired the beautiful design and utility of it, and passed on; and kicked myself constantly for not buying it, all the days after.

  Once I needed one, they vanished from the antique malls of course.  I looked, asked, drove to see the other dealer across town, etc, for several years, with no luck.  Most dealers knew what it was I was talking about, and had seen them; but were also aware that the market for them was nearly non-existent.

  On my way driving home, I stopped for a break in the small town where I went to high school; a place to which I retain very few ties.  Walked past our old house, noticed that the tuck pointing I'd done on the front stairs was holding up fine, but that whatever I hadn't repaired then was now in desperate need.  And finding a couple of antique stores, looked in mostly out of community curiosity, not real hope.  They always ask; "Looking for anything special?"  And I always answer, as a way to open communication, and ease the situation dynamics.  "Yeah, I'm looking for a... "  and the hands start flailing about to express dimensions and actions.

  "Nope.  But the other store back up town might- they've got a basement."  Ok.  Trudge.  "Oh, I really don't know.  I have two dealers who might; let's see - "  and hailing one who happened to be in, relayed my request.  "Well.  Maybe."

  Let's look.  And there, behold, is my feed grinder.  Cleaned up to an insane degree, and painted fire engine red in hopes of achieving tchotchke-hood, but there it is; massive cast iron, with enough wear on the iron teeth to prove a long and useful career already achieved; with another hundred years left in it.

  There's the tag.  Flip it over.  $145.00.

  Now- the lady, who inadvertently had blurted "you know, we thought that's what it was!" and thus revealed her position of inferior knowledge, was looking at me very hopefully, as I looked up from the tag.  There wasn't any doubt in my mind that if I'd played the game, she'd have cheerfully taken $100; or maybe a lot less- ("man, the last one I saw was a lot better, and they were only asking $35!") but instead, I gave her a full-smile, put out my hand, and said "Done!"

  And I was actually aware of what I was doing.  I was willing to pay the exorbitant price for two reasons.  One; pure celebratory joy that I'd succeeded in this long search, and I can now grind my own stuff to feed the guineas and chickens; and Two -

  Two is more complicated.  This was a piece of pretty important machinery to me; and similar bits of old technology exist in many corners of antique stores, attics, basements and barns.  Most of these old tools wind up thrown away.  "Nobody wants that junk anymore; it's just scrap."

  A bunch of the tools I used to build this house came out of antique stores; and the need for these simpler machines is increasing, not decreasing.

  I paid the price cheerfully - to encourage, forcefully, this lady and her antique dealer friends to preserve the old tools when they find them; and make them available to those of us who recognize and want them.  I didn't tell her that.

  I doubt that extra $45 will ever find its way back to me, in karmic payoff.  But.  It was my contribution, for the day, to the direction of human enterprise.  Hopefully, it will help a few others find what they need, down the road.

  A little shove on the iceberg.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good news.

Everybody needs a little these days, right?

I (me) finally found the cause of my illness; which has kept me >50% bedridden for many months.

Good ol' overmedication.

I really don't blame the docs (exactly).  But shortly after my bellyache posts here, and right after one of my docs prescribed a new drug to add to my list; I decided I really needed to go back to square one, and find out what my unmedicated symptoms might be.

So I took what the docs call a "drug holiday", which they chuckle about when they mention it.  A holiday from drugs, not on them.

I quit.  Not cold turkey, but tapering off; and I told the docs after I'd done it.

After 2 months of letting them all clear out of my systems- holy fecal material - I'm well.

Or at least back to my old complaints, not the new ones that were so debilitating.

So those thousands of you who have been losing sleep worrying about me- all the worry vibes seem to have worked, and I'm back to my quasi-normal self.


The rebound effect, though is fierce.  There's a shipload of work that's been waiting for me, so I'm like, um, really busy.  On the road, at the moment, visiting, talking, looking.

But smiling.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A bit more humor.

In the "how to speak to Normons" area...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

STILL not dead yet.


hi folks.  We're just plodding through lots of energy sucking stuff here.  I'm hoping to have a tad more energy available for the blog now.  Sure want to.

Meanwhile.  This just hit me and cracked me up today; and I wanted to share it with you.

The times, they are a changing, it seems.  :-)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The handbasket is getting cramped.

Still wrassling with the cruddy tummy; plus, we're one of those places where it's been raining constantly.  Last night I was up until midnight, watching the weather radar; waiting to see if I needed to head for the root cellar.  We lucked out; the storms lost a fair amount of intensity just before passing over; an inch of rain and a couple near lightning strikes was all we got.

As many of you know, I frequently comment over on The Automatic Earth.  (There are a lot of days when I can manage to read and react; but don't really have the energy needed for a coherent and worthwhile post of my own.)

One of the readers there took some of Stoneleigh's words, and some of the pictures Ilargi uses to introduce each post there; and edited it all into this video.

   For some reason, the embed process wasn't working for me today.   Watch it; it's not long, nice music.  And pretty pessimistic.  But if you're not feeling pessimistic these days, I'd have to think you're not paying attention.  The rate at which really bad news hits us seems to have doubled from only 6 months ago.  One million people in the US have lost all unemployment benefits recently; and many more will be in the same handbasket to hell shortly.  They will have nothing to pay any of their bills with.  Which means some of the people they've managed to keep paying will now be unable to pay their bills.  Even Joe Biden admitted last week that many of the jobs lost so far will never come back.

  One good thing.  Listen to the tone of Stoneleigh's voice.  She knows how bad things look, in an astonishingly lucid way.  But you will not hear despair in her voice.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Whole Planet Picnic! Again!

  Time zooms past.  Monday is the Summer Solstice- the absolute middle of the year.  Half the year is gone.

  I'm still fighting the tummy thing; so am seriously short on time; most I can do today is link here to past posts.   There are actually a number of them; if you have the interest, you can do a search the blog thingy for those.

  We're doing it!

  Wolfmamma had asked for some specific games we do; mostly after dusk the kids are either catching fireflies, then letting them go; or playing some jungle version of hide and seek.  Before that, there's a fox and goose course mowed in tall grass, and a steep very grassy hill for grass sledding.  One of the best bets; if you've got some elders in the group- ask them to teach the kids something.  That's usually pretty cool.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to fix the Gulf oil leak. Seriously.

  I wasn't going to do this.  Because it seems such a waste of time; first, tons of good people thinking hard, and second; the thousands of idiots yelling moronic ideas about how to fix it make any sensible suggestions impossible to hear.

  But.  It occurred to me today that I have US, Chinese, and Canadian patents on a metallurgy process.  Which is based on the work of brilliant engineers.  Who totally failed to see; or even look; outside their narrow focus.

 They can do that.  And watching them today, carefully grinding down the cut off pipe so it will be nice and neat- I'm thinking  WTF!!!!!!??????

  The focus on precision is a disaster; it's why they keep failing; and it's utterly unnecessary.  If you just think in a different direction.

  Now.  For any serious engineer readers.  This is not a technical spec sheet.  It's a broad concept.  Don't let me catch you knee-jerking "that won't work because...".  When you spot a problem, ask instead, "ok, how do we get around that??"  Because I assure you- I've thought of it- and there are ways around.  Enumerating them would make this incomprehensible.

  For technical critics:  keep in mind: US Patent Office certified thinking here; on a very technical process where very bright people failed to understand their own work.

  In a nutshell:

  DO NOT try to fit a pipe onto that sawed off riser.

  Instead- think of the riser as the nozzle on a tank full of helium.  And put the equivalent of a balloon onto it.


  The crude is coming out at something like 9,000 psi, yes?  And what is the pressure of the oil about 30' away from the pipe; after exit?  Why- zero, relatively speaking, and velocity is reduced to the speed of oil rising due to differing density.

  Seriously.  Go get a big hot-air balloon, today; the big ones have a capacity of over 200,000 cubic feet; around 1.28 million US gallons; about 30,000 barrels.

  The point to the balloon is to create a large reservoir, with lots of buffering capacity.  You hook your FLEXIBLE and OVERSIZED pipes up to it, and then hook up to suction pipe, and take it to the surface.

  You could easily have a capture envelope big enough to allow gases and liquids to separate; so you could suck gas out of the top of the envelope, say, and liquids out of the middle regions.

  Ok.  Really?  A hot air balloon is not big enough; or strong enough; but it gives you the idea.  And you could practice with one today.

You make the envelope out of industrial neoprene; with a mouth about 60 feet wide.  I'd make mine about 300 feet tall, and 200 feet wide, to start.  Bigger is better, but manipulating it and mooring it are better learned smaller.  You move the mouth over the plume at a distance of 20 feet or so, and then move it down; and moor it to the floor in 5 places. The envelope will  inflate; just like your helium balloon.  You, of course, have 8 different flexible suction hose ports already attached to the envelope in different places.

  Hook up, and suck.


  Could this be done so it doesn't work?  Hell yes.

  Could it be done so it DOES work?  HELL YES.

  You'll probably have to try a couple times to figure it out.

  Beats the bloody hell out of what's going on now.


Folks; if you think this has merit; pass it on.  Who knows; eventually the right person might see it.


  Oh, yeah.   An expected reaction to this is "Why, that's obvious.  I'm sure they've already thought about THAT.  Must not work for some reason."

  You may want to check on that.  Totally obvious ideas have gone unthought of for millennia; in fact, that's the usual path of progress.

tummy upchu, uh, date.

  I can't tell you how much I appreciate the concern about my tummy, guys.  Very seriously.  And, you're all correct, it was way past time to do something.

  It means a lot when people yell at you.  :-)

  As it turned out, I didn't even need Crunchy's dulcet coo of "dumbass!" to get me motivated.

  All I needed was the emergency room.

  Ha, I hear you crow, "told you so!"

  Yes, you did.  :-)  and yes, you were right.

  I'll keep this as short as I can; other fish to fry; but, Sat evening, the nausea got uncontrollable and the vomiting rate was up.  So it's time for urgent care.  Saturday night is our standard choice for emergency room visits.

  I lucked out and got my old family doctor who knows me intimately, and is sharp as they come.  Just to prove everything, not that I had to, I threw up for him.

  He's been friend as well as doctor for decades; he checked everything; liver function, etc etc, blood, urine, barium swallow/injected vascular visualizer CAT scan.

  And.  Nothing.  very slight elevated white count, tiny bit of protein in urine- and nothing.  Definitely no cancer, etc.

  SEE!?  Told ya.

  This is my life story.  "yup, you're sick- but we can't find it."

  Then, for more fun (I LOVE artificially berry flavored barium) - one day later; Smidgen started throwing up, at 7PM.  Spice started at 9 PM.  Smidgen stopped around 4 AM, Spice about 6.

  Pretty clearly, my urgent visit was not an escalation of the chronic problem; but a case of "stomach flu" (aka food poisoning) grafted on top of it.

  Got the CAT done for the chronic thing, anyway.

  We're all still recovering from the food poisoning; gripy stomachs; and it looks like square 1 for the chronic.

  Who knows, maybe the food poisoning will knock out the chronic, right?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

explanation and new ACTION!-

 Since around 20% of all Boswash now knows I have an icky tummy, I figured I'd best just go ahead and tell all you guys.  And it's Crunchy Chicken's fault, of course, that I haven't already.

  Some days ago I sent this comment in to Mark Bitten's "Minimalist" column on the NYT.  I really didn't think he'd post it- but he did.  (The column it was in response to is worth reading if you're a burger fan- he's a heck of a writer.)

  My tummy has been giving me a bad time since September.  Whatever it is acts like "stomach flu", but at this point, I'm pretty sure it isn't.  At kind of random intervals, I'll throw up thoroughly; for no apparent reason; which is followed by about 2 days of 23 hours of sleep, a couple wobbly days, then a week or so of slight nausea, low energy, and an IQ of 78.

  That's the real reason I'm so quiet here.  I keep thinking it has to go away, but it doesn't.  Next step is the doctor, I guess, which I'm dreading; having spent months in doctors' offices and labs being tested for weird symptoms; almost never with any resolution.

  And the "it's Crunchy's fault" part- it's incredibly embarrassing for me to mumble about tummy aches, when she is dealing; literally heroically, with real illness.  I feel like an ass even mentioning my piddly stuff.  So, I've been quiet about it.
  Meanwhile.  I spend a fair number of hours perusing the web, and I sometimes have enough functioning brain cells that I can respond well, when appropriately stimulated.

  Here is the ACTION part.

  Anybody out there pissed at BP?  Like to do something about it besides t-shirts?

  I made this comment over on TAE yesterday:  (Incidentally, the opening essay is really worth reading, though it will not cheer you up.)

Greenpa said...

Carpe- you know what would be VASTLY more effective and valuable than a simple "boycott"?

A community response. The owners of BP gas stations are already loudly explaining that the boycott doesn't hurt BP - but it really hurts the small-guy owner.

This is likely very true. So-

Get all the potential boycotters together- sign them up- then send a good committee of 3 very friendly and diplomatic community people to meet with each and every BP station owner.

I guarantee they ain't happy with BP neither.

Tell them- "If you dump your BP franchise- we'll bring the local TV crews, and help you tear down your BP signs. And everybody on this list will promise on TV to buy their gas from YOU, from now on- and ask their neighbors, friends, and family to do the same.

"We want BP OUT of our community- but we really want you to stay part of it."

Now THAT would make headlines. And communities.

  The reader response has been good; and after thinking it over, I still think it's good.  Somebody should, like- do it.

  And I thought of something to add to the scenario- the communities could help the ExBP stations- form a new chain; recognizable as Ex BP.  Should get them even more customers.  Finding a new supplier for gasoline is not a problem; it just has to be done.

  And a positive outcome, instead of many many unhappy people, and ruined small businesses.

  Ok, now.  My readers here have a higher propensity for ACTION than many.  Make my tummy happy- and somebody do this.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

woo hoo!

Hot diggety, I'm a "Highlight" on the NYT "Green Blog"!!

This is a bit about the oil spill.  In all the moaning (guys, they're just getting warmed up) people are starting to argue how rare this kind of thing is- and my response is- no, it was inevitable.  Not the same slant as "rare."

  And the typical press response is still "ooh, maybe the worst won't happen, and these pelicans will magically escape the oncoming oil!  We just don't know yet!"  Yes, we do.  The Gulf- lots of it- is toast. Only question is, how many years to anything like a recovery.

  I do a fair amount of commenting in several places- there are lots of days when my lobotomy will let me respond to a statement in ok fashion; but won't give me the ability to put a coherent and hopefully worthwhile independent post here.


  Have a nice day, if possible.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

apropos of nothing-

I got so many chuckles out of this, I just have to pass it on.  It's not "green" or science or nothin- just a funny commentary on humans.

Got this email just now: 

Subject: Beneficiary
Date: April 21, 2010 1:18:20 PM CDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Anti-Terrorist And Monitory Crime Division.
Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
J.Edgar.Hoover Building Washington Dc
Customers Service Hours / Monday To Saturday
Office Hours Monday To Saturday:

Dear Beneficiary,

Series of meetings have been held over the past 7 months with the secretary general of the United Nations Organization. This ended 3 days ago. It is obvious that you have not received your fund which is to the tune of $11million due to past corrupt Governmental Officials who almost held the fund to themselves for their selfish reason and some individuals who have taken advantage of your fund all in an attempt to swindle your fund which has led to so many losses from your end and unnecessary delay in the receipt of your fund.

The National Central Bureau of Interpol enhanced by the United Nations and Federal Bureau of Investigation have successfully passed a mandate to the current president of Nigeria his Excellency President Umaru Yar'Adua to boost the exercise of clearing all foreign debts owed to you and other individuals and organizations who have been found not to have receive their Contract Sum, Lottery/Gambling, Inheritance and the likes.

Now how would you like to receive your payment? because we have two method of payment which is by Check or by ATM card?

ATM Card: We will be issuing you a custom pin based ATM card which you will use to withdraw up to $3,000 per day from any ATM machine that has the Master Card Logo on it and the card have to be renewed in 4 years time which is 2014. Also with the ATM card you will be able to transfer your funds to your local bank account. The ATM card comes with a handbook or manual to enlighten you about how to use it. Even if you do not have a bank account.

Check: To be deposited in your bank for it to be cleared within three working days.

Your payment would be sent to you via any of your preferred option and would be mailed to you via UPS. Because we have signed a contract with UPS which should expire by the end of may 2010 you will only need to pay $110 instead of $520 saving you $410 So if you pay before March 28 2010 you save $410 Take note that anyone asking you for some kind of money above the usual fee is definitely a fraudsters and you will have to stop communication with every other person if you have been in contact with any. Also remember that all you will ever have to spend is $110.00 nothing more! Nothing less! And we guarantee the receipt of your fund to be successfully delivered to you within the next 24hrs after the receipt of payment has been confirmed.

Below are few list of tracking numbers you can track from UPS website to confirm people like you who have received their payment successfully.

Name : Donna L. Vargas: UPS Tracking Number: 1Z757F991598420403 (
Name : Rovenda Elaine Clayton: UPS Tracking Number:  1Z757F991596606592 (

Note: Everything has been taken care of by the Federal Government of Nigeria, The United Nation and also the FBI and including taxes, custom paper and clearance duty so all you will ever need to pay is $110.

DO NOT SEND MONEY TO ANYONE UNTIL YOU READ THIS: The actual fees for shipping your ATM card is $520 but because UPS have temporarily discontinued the C.O.D which gives you the chance to pay when package is delivered for international shipping We had to sign contract with them for bulk shipping which makes the fees reduce from the actual fee of $520 to $110 nothing more and no hidden fees of any sort!

To effect the release of your fund valued at 11million usd  you are advised to contact our correspondent in Africa the delivery officer MR. MIKE WILLIAMS with the information below,


You are adviced to contact him with the informations as stated below:

Your full Name..
Your Address:..............
Home/Cell Phone:..............
Preferred Payment Method ( ATM / Cashier Check )

Upon receipt of payment the delivery officer will ensure that your package is sent within 24 working hours. Because we are so sure of everything we are giving you a 100% money back guarantee if you do not receive payment/package within the next 24hrs after you have made the payment for shipping.

Yours sincerely,

Miss Donna Story

Note: Do disregard any email you get from any impostors or offices claiming to be in possession of your ATM CARD, you are hereby advice only to be in contact with Mr. Mike Williams of the ATM CARD CENTRE who is the rightful person to deal with in regards to your ATM CARD PAYMENT and forward any emails you get from impostors to this office so we could act upon and commence investigation.

  And, as always- the most amazing thing is- there ARE people who actually fall for stuff this crude- which is why they keep sending it out.

ay, yi yi.

Friday, April 16, 2010


  Hi there!  Remember me?  :-)

I have a perfect illustration of how the last weeks have been.  Today I sat down at the computer to attempt some real work, and turned on my Pandora page.  It was set to Christmas music.

There are about 30 reasons why, which I doubt very much you want to sort through.  I'll just mention the most recent one, which is very typical of the other 29, in terms of debilitating power.

We got hit with a stomach virus; Spice first, then me.  Not, of course, one of the wonderful "3 day stomach flu" bugs; this one is taking around 3 weeks.  Starts with very thorough vomiting, which is likely to go on for 4 days or so, followed by a week or more of "tight stomach", along with half of your normal diet now making you nauseous.  And, what the hay, exhaustion, right along.

I'm in the tail end of mine; you know, where you feel like you weigh 500 lbs and just had a lobotomy?  Ah, joy.

What I usually do to combat the creeping insanity when I'm in that kind of place- almost able to get out of bed and work- but not really; is read.

I have a longstanding interest in and affection for China; I've been twice, and growing up I learned that my parents had a personal connection to General Vinegar Joe Stilwell;  I read his diary when I was 14 or so.  That was an eye-opener.  Simultaneously I learned what a real general is like, and how difficult it is to be intelligent, moral, conscientious, and still function.  And that China was an excellent model for Hell on Earth from about 1880 to 1950.  And not comic-book hell; the real thing.

Consequently, whenever I've tripped over a novel or diary coming out of China from somewhere in that timeframe, I've always picked them up, added them to my pile.

So during my current convalescence (as opposed to the 8 others since January 1) I picked up the nearest book I hadn't read for several years, and it was Heaven Below, by E.H. Clayton; Prentice Hall, 1944.  I tried to find a link to it- but nothing useful, and one site for rare books.  Some libraries should still have it.

About halfway through it, I realized what I was holding in my hand.  A manual for survival in the midst of cultural and political chaos.  Something a lot of folks have been wishing for.  Then it also occurred to me that many of the other books I have read about China in those years also contain many insights along the same lines; The Joy Luck Club, for instance, something a bit easier to find.

Clayton was a schoolmaster in Hangchow for 30 some years, starting in 1912; and the book was written before the end of WWII.  Hangchow has been called the Venice of China, which is not a terrible comparison; canals, ancient, wealthy, and sophisticated.  In Chinese literature, calling it Heaven on Earth, was a common metaphor.

The book is extremely readable, and Clayton has an acute eye for human nature, and an unusually good grasp of how the world works.  And a sense of humor, mordant at times.

He lived through, and documents, including the details of daily life, the early rise of Chinese Nationalism, the advent of communism, the Generalissimo, and invasion and occupation by Japan.  Plenty of chaos and conflict to go around.  And he can see through his own eyes and culture, and the eyes of his Chinese teacher colleagues, and his Chinese students (boys), in an unusually balanced way.

An example from his early years, when ancient China was still predominant:

Several hundred years ago, a philanthropic Chinese gentleman had left his fortune to provide, in perpetuity, a free ferry across the river, which at Hangchow is a mile and a half wide.  For three hundred years, sails and oars were the motive power, or long poling bamboos stuck in the mud and pressed against the naked bellies of sweating, chanty-singing coolies who leaned against them until they seemed almost on all fours as they forced the heavy junks through the water.  The ferryboat was never started till every last inch of vacant space had been occupied by countrymen with loaded carrying-poles bringing produce to the city market - bamboo shoots, yams, peas, beans, chestnuts, water chestnuts, water nuts, the edible bulrush, and chickens - or returning carrying the precious two-bucket uncovered load of night-soil, which is the chief fertilizer on all Chinese farms.

I can see, and smell that, quite vividly - what a huge amount of information he has packed in.  One of the most significant bits, to me, is the fact that traditional Chinese culture was so stable that a bequest like that could still be working after 300 years- longer than the USA has existed.

He lived there to see the complete collapse of traditional China, both culturally and politically, lived through constant sequential occupations by warlords, then the Japanese- a different phenomenon altogether.  And, he saw the people survive (some of them), and develop a fierce determination among them to make China a modern state.  They developed a sense of community.

One of the scariest things facing us is that we're looking at an unknown future; we can no longer predict or see what will happen next year, and after.  One of the very ominous and real possibilities is the end of any practical rule of law- can we survive that?  How?

Grab a book on China, 1910 to 1960, and you'll start to see what is possible.  In 1938 or so, China's population stood at a mere 400,000,000 - close to the current population of the US of 300M plus.

A huge amount of it is grim beyond the comprehension of white-picket fence small town life here.

I think it can help to know that others have come through such hell, and out the other side to once again live lives they consider worthwhile.

I think it is also a good idea to learn what hell can bring, and prepare for it as much as you can.  A good smack-upside the head with the 2x4 of Chinese history might help wake us up.

Much of what Clayton has to tell is heart-wrenching; reading the book is no picnic if you have an ounce of compassion.  After the Japanese occupation:

A rice kitchen was maintained for adults who could show evidence of complete destitution.   Eight hundred people were given tickets admitting them to a daily noon meal that was almost sufficient to keep them alive.  These people were not all originally poor.  One man had been the proprietor of a shop with a half million dollars worth of business a year.  Several school teachers were in the group.  Twenty years ago the military governor of Chekiang province had given the school a gymnasium, and now his second wife was eating in our rice kitchen, which used the gymnasium as a dining room. 

One day I gave a ticket to a man whom I met on the street.  It was a ticket for a month's dinners; but he misunderstood and thought it entitled him to just one meal.  When he came in he was placed at a table with seven other men.  He ate much more than a man in his condition should eat, then waited until the others had left and cleaned off with his tongue the entire surface of the table. So far as he knew, it might be the last meal he would ever have.

In spite of our work among children, we had many requests for rice-kitchen tickets for young people, and during the last few months we decided that, since the numbers could not be increased, we should try to save the young rather than the old.  This decision forced upon me a responsibility that was very difficult to bear.  Day after day it was necessary for me to say, time and again, to sweet-faced old grandmothers, or to kindly-faced old gentlemen, "No, we cannot help you."  This meant, "Go and starve," and that is what they did.

A horrifingly difficult thing to do.  Slightly easier for him perhaps because his boundaries and necessities were so clearly delineated.  Just so much rice.   5,000 refugees inside his school walls, a school designed for 200 boys- and millions- literally- outside.

Could you do it?    I have to think that coping with whatever comes may be a little easier if we think about it ahead of time.  It may be, literally, a matter of life or death.